Berlin: In Search of the Wall. The Funnel, A publication of the German Fulbright Commission, 1991.


Berlin: In Search of the Wall

Michael P. Peterson

Fulbright Professor 1990-91

Berlin, February 1991


Don't expect to just run into the Wall during your visit to Berlin -- you'll have to go look for it. In the city itself, the Wall is essentially gone. You'll need a car to see the remaining long sections of the Wall (last seen near the village of Lübars, north of Berlin). If you're lucky, you might see a few instant entrepreneurs here spray painting the Wall with a variety of colors and then chipping away at it with picks and hammers to create those small, colorful pieces that are still for sale near Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Tor.

While the Wall is gone, there are three places in the city where the Wall is still present in one form or another: Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery. At the Brandenburg Tor (S-Bahn, Linie S2, Unter den Linden), now a symbol of German reunification, a small piece of the Wall is displayed and a large open space is visible to the south showing where the wall stood. Merchants around the Tor, mostly Turkish, sell a variety of East German uniforms and Russian hats along with the now ubiquitous pieces of the Wall. A new development here has been the flood of Russian hand-made products that are also being sold here, sometimes by Russians themselves. Look for the hand painted wooden eggs and plates that are available. A short walk toward the Große Engel brings you to a Soviet War Monument that stood within West Berlin and was recently turned over to Germany. Germans were not allowed to enter the site until recently. The Reichstag, a block to the north of the Brandenburg Tor, offers an exhibit on the history of Germany at no charge (entrance on north side). On the northeast corner of the Reichtag is a memorial to individuals who were killed while attempting to escape over the wall and some sections of the wall are visible on the opposite side of the Spree canal.

Checkpoint Charlie (U-Bahn, U6, Kochstrasse) served as the crossing point between the American and Soviet sectors of the city. Germans were not allowed to enter East Berlin at this crossing. Since the Wende, the check point has been totally torn down. To gain an understanding of the history of the wall, be sure to visit the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Friedrichstrasse 44; daily 9-22h; entrance fee: 5 DM). Although some of the displays here have seen better days, the museum conveys an unforgetable feeling of the prison Wall. The most effective aspect of the museum are the displays describing the ingenuity of the people in finding a way to freedom.

The East Side Gallery (S-Bahn Hauptbahnhof along Holzmarktstr. and Mühlenstr.) is a long section of the Wall that was left standing and transformed to a concrete art gallery. Artists were invited from different parts of the world to contribute a painting covering about 10 meters of the Wall. Imagine about a kilometer of this and you have the sense of the East Side Gallery. It is impressive not only because of the paintings (best seen from a traffic divider in the middle of the street - watch for traffic) but because it is the single longest stretch of Wall remaining in the city. You can get a good view from the back side and this is also a spot where stripped Trabant automobiles, now a symbol of a failed East German economy, are simply abandoned. (The Trabant has also become the object a whole series of jokes. Example: How do you double the value of a Trabant? Fill'er up.)

Of course, the Wall is more than the physical object and in this sense the Wall is everywhere you look. The Germans speak of Der Mauer im Kopf (the Wall in the head) and this Wall is certainly there, if not exactly visible. But one can hear people talk of it, sometimes even with fondness. A West Berliner, obviously disgruntled by the changes the falling of the Wall has brought, admitted that she would help to build the Wall back up. Life was more peaceful and pleasant when the Wall was there. An East German complained to me about the ruthlessness and brutality of capitalism. The only difference now he argued is that the people act this way with a smile on their face. Bewildered by the quickness of the events of the past year, a younger West Berliner admitted that he did not want reunification. He had grown-up with things the way they were and had accepted the Wall as a part of life. Reunification was something his parents wanted but he could see no advantage to it. Certainly, change can be difficult - even the changes brought about by the tearing down of an unnatural wall. The great majority of people here see the changes as positive but realize that there are many more Walls to be torn down.

The Wall and all that it symbolizes is still in Berlin. I hope you will have a chance to see and to feel it while you're here.